Conductor: Jaime Laredo
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C Major for Strings, Op. 48
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14 - Augustin Hadelich
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, "Pastoral"
One of New York's most beloved and enduring holiday traditions is the two concerts performed by the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, one on Christmas' Eve and the other the following weekend. As one of the foremost professional training programs for the crème de la crème of music schools across the country and Canada, the New York String Orchestra Seminar spares no expense at preparing future classical music professionals of the highest quality. The concerts' programs usually include a solid collection of unbeatable crowd-pleasers, and as the end of the year nears, there's absolutely nothing wrong with kicking back and relaxing to the sounds of oldies but goodies.
So early on Sunday afternoon, as if on cue, the rain stopped and I was able to walk down Broadway and along W. 57th Street all the way to my seat in a very crowded Stern Auditorium for a wide-ranging tribute to the Romantic movement with the Russian master, Piotr Tchaikovsky, the American contemporary, Samuel Barber, and the German instigator, Ludwig van Beethoven. A wonderful way to wrap up a wonderful four-day Christmas weekend.
A sure-fire hit that never fails to make the audience swoon, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings proved one more time that the quintessential Romantic composer is simply peerless when it comes to shamelessly tugging at the audience's heart-strings and leave them all the better for it. Never mind the Neo-Classical Mozartean influence, the serenade overflows with a memorable recurring theme, lush melodies, spirited folk rhythms, a graceful waltz, passionate élans and peaceful interludes for an unforgettable Romantic experience. On the stage, the dynamic young musicians clad in colorful tops may have appeared occasionally insecure about their ties and high heels, but when the time had come to grab their instruments and play under the attentive baton of Jaime Laredo, they quickly demonstrated that they were well on their way to becoming consummate professionals with an impressively assertive performance.
A slightly older and more experienced musician, Augustin Hadelich is the rapidly rising Juilliard graduate who joined the orchestra for Barber's Violin Concerto. I have never been as enthralled by the Barber as by some of the other well-known violin concertos of the repertoire, but I can still appreciate its lovely melodies, intricate passages and stark contrasts. On Sunday, Augustin Hadelich effortlessly handled the beautiful lushness and the technical pitfalls of the composition and assuredly delivered a brilliantly detailed and intensely committed interpretation. It is no wonder he is in such high demand.
Lo and behold, his dazzling virtuosic skills were on even more evident display during the encore, which turned out to be Paganini's thrilling Caprice No. 24, and sounded, to my amazed ears at least, even more enjoyable than the Barber. Fiercely challenging for the soloist and yet a lot of fun for the listener, the sparkling caprice was a delightful Italian detour that rightly enchanted the audience.
Since one cannot really go wrong with Beethoven, the ultimate piece on the program was an all-around radiant Pastoral. One of Beethoven's most popular achievements, his sixth symphony luxuriantly unfolded, deftly describing the joys of nature in all their bucolic charms and power of destruction. The orchestra showed a remarkable cohesion and a deep devotion for the work, all of which resulted in a heart-felt journey to the countryside that ended my musical year 2014 on a youthful and blissful note. Happy New Year!